Do you wish you looked like a hardcore Marine when you did push-ups, but instead, you really look like a single soggy noodle that’s been thrown on the floor? Keeping your back straight through many exercises is crucial, and the push-up is no exception. Unfortunately for us, we generally learn our push-up technique at school by someone screaming “1,2,3,4,5,6…” Many of us don’t understand how important a straight back is for this fundamental movement, and will forever view the push-up as a form of punishment.
Why It’s So Important to Have a Straight Back
Maintaining a straight back during a push-up will help with two things, your strength, and safety. A stable posture reduces potential injuries to your spine, while at the same time increases your potential for performance.
Johnny and Jack have a bet with each other to see who can do the most push-ups. Johnny has read this blog before and knows to keep his spine strong and straight; while Jack has only ever witnessed his cat doing push-ups and thinks it’s a piece of cake.
The competition starts. Johnny is hammering out reps with ease and feels like he could go for days. Jack, on the other hand, feels a pain in his shoulders and lower back, he’s sweating like crazy, and he’s only three reps deep – not to mention, his technique is making him look embarrassingly like a drunk teenager trying to get busy in the limo on prom night.
Now, which one would you want to be? I bet it’s not Jack!
The push-up isn’t just a tool that high school gym teachers and personal trainers use to punish you. It’s a basic human movement that everyone should be able to perform. The push-up can be seen in many day-to-day activities like getting up from the floor, pushing your broken down car or moving furniture around the house.
How to Maintain a Straight Back When Doing a Push-Up
1. Starting from the bottom
Rather than starting from the top position, where there is no support or guide for your spine, begin the exercise lying face down flat on the floor. Use the flat surface of the ground underneath your belly as a guide for your spine. Starting from the bottom up is a great way to mentally visualize and feel how your back should be throughout the exercise.
2. Using a guide
Perform your push-ups with a broomstick on your back. One that is long enough to run from the tip of your head to the end of your butt. This is an excellent way to see which part of the push-up causes you to lose your posture. Remember to be conscious of how your back feels as you do the exercise so that you can progress and eventually take the training wheels off.
3. Engaging your core
Bracing your core is crucial not only for the push-up but for every other movement as well. This should be done consciously before you start your first rep and held until after you finish your last rep.
You can engage your core by tensing your abs, lats, glutes and quads. How much tension you place in these core muscles depends on how much intensity the exercise demands. Performing a push-up may only require 50-60% of your potential for tension, while a bench press with heavy weight may need 100%.